IWD 2017 CPAN Blog series: #1 - The road to zero poverty is paved with efforts to educate chronically poor women and girls

This blogpost is part of a series entitled IWD 2017 CPAN Blog series, which have been published in celebration of the 2017 International Women’s Day. The aim of this series is to emphasise the need to economically empower chronically poor women and girls.

By: Vidya Diwakar

Give a chronically poor woman a fish and you feed her for a day; teach a chronically poor woman to fish and you feed her (and her family and future generations) for a lifetime. I’m convinced that the adage must have originally been along those lines. It refers to the instrumental importance of economic activities and, a step further, to the long-term benefits of education in enabling this work. In fact, education is more than a road to decent work; it is crucial a) in promoting economic empowerment, especially amongst chronically poor women and girls who often do not have many other assets to capitalise on, and through this, b) in working towards poverty eradication.

To be sure, today we already know (thank you, MDGs) that quality education is instrumental in achieving a host of beneficial wellbeing outcomes. It is often hailed as the solution to ending world poverty, and a panacea to all ills facing contemporary society.

Unfortunately, education still remains a far-off reality for many poor households, and especially within them for chronically poor women and girls. While it may be argued that education inequalities concerning poverty are greater than those concerning gender, inequalities concerning poverty and gender – that is, affecting chronically poor women and girls- are especially severe. This group faces intersecting inequalities that are often transferred from parents to children, generation after generation with little hope of escape.

In an upcoming CPAN challenge paper, I recently examined education as a channel towards economic empowerment of the most marginalised women and girls in rural Bangladesh and rural Nigeria. A snapshot from rural Bangladesh is presented below.[1]

My analysis of rural Bangladesh indicated starkly divergent rates of education completion by gender that disadvantage women, and especially amongst them, persistently poor women. It reaffirmed the importance of education, not only initial access but also the level and quality of it, in promoting economic empowerment even amongst the poorest. Education is valuable not only intrinsically but also instrumentally as a means of achieving better decision-making power for women. The proxies I used to measure economic empowerment – such as the share of income earned by women, and women’s independent decision-making abilities in the household – were also found to be synergistic, providing cross-over benefits that resulted in multiplier effects and a virtuous cycle between women’s economic empowerment and the reduction of chronic poverty.

But, what can we say about the steps along this pathway to zero poverty? While there are undoubtedly many such roads for poverty eradication, a potential simplification is presented below. Spoiler alert: set the process in motion through promoting quality, targeted education for persistently poor women and girls, and we may just achieve SDG 1 (and 4, 5, and the others to follow), with a few years to spare.

[1] Read my CPAN challenge paper as well as another report by Kate Bird, both out later this month, to learn more about economic empowerment amongst chronically poor women and girls, and education and asset ownership as transmission mechanisms towards achieving this empowerment.

[2] The three prongs in the “getting to zero poverty” tripod presented above – of tackling chronic poverty, preventing impoverishment, and sustaining poverty escapes– is outlined in CPAN’s Chronic Poverty Report 2014-15. I adapt it to education for this article.

[3] Find more about CPAN’s work on sustained poverty escapes in rural Bangladesh

For more on this topic, visit the project page Donor’s best practices in reducing chronic poverty among women and girls

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Photo credits: Students participate in class , Bangladesh  Photo: © Dominic Chavez/World Bank